Iraq

Iraq: Humility Is the Best Option

Via The U.S. Army, Flickr.com
Via The U.S. Army, Flickr.com

America is stunned by what is happening in Iraq right now, and happening so quickly. We may be facing the worst terrorist threat to international security so far — despite all we have done and sacrificed. Both our political leaders and media pundits are admitting there are no good options for the U.S. now. But there is an option we could try for the first time: humility. Let me turn to two biblical texts that might provide some wisdom for both the religious and non-religious.

If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom. 12:20–21)

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God. (Matthew 5:9)

All nations use propaganda to tell half-truths and spread misinformation about their enemies, which should be honestly challenged. Even so, it is also true that we have real enemies in this world, as individuals, groups, and nations. To assume otherwise is foolish, from the perspective of history, certainly, but also in light of good theology about evil as part of the nature of the human condition. According to the Bible, even our faith communities will encounter enemies. Jesus’s teaching assumes that we will have enemies, and he teaches us how to treat them. In the passages above, Jesus and Paul the Apostle offer guidance for more effective ways of dealing with our enemies. It seems to be clear that our habit of going to war against them is increasingly ineffective. For the past several years, we have found ourselves in a constant state of war with “enemies” who are very hard to find or completely defeat.

Wounded Souls

WHEN CHIEF MASTER Sergeant Harry Marsters returned in 2008 from his time in Iraq, he knew something wasn’t right. At 54, the 32-year veteran of the Air Force—with 27 years full time in the military and the remainder as a reservist with the Air National Guard—felt that as one of the “older folks” he knew what to expect upon return from his assignment with the communications squad at the Kirkuk Regional Air Base in northern Iraq.

Marsters’ squadron trained Iraqi forces in the operation and maintenance of aerial surveillance equipment on the base, which housed 1,000 Air Force and 2,500 Army troops. As first sergeant he acted as a liaison to the Air Force troops and ensured the well-being of those stationed there. It was a job he relished, pouring care into building connections with the airmen and women, spending time with the chaplains, and coordinating recreation and morale-building activities.

Though Air Force personnel never left the base, they were subjected to the ever-present threat of randomly timed mortar rounds launched by insurgents. They also took part in nighttime “patriot details” in which Air Force personnel and soldiers lined the base’s runway as the bodies of fallen soldiers were loaded onto planes for transport back to the United States. But Marsters says he was most upset by what he felt was harsh treatment of the Iraqi nationals who came to work on the base.

“They were treated like criminals,” he says of the extensive searches and intimidation Iraqis received when going through base security. “Everyone in Iraq is not evil, bad, and nasty. It’s a very small group of people who are raising hell and trying to hurt the country. The average person is just trying to make some money and take care of his or her family.”

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VIDEO: The War Within

In "Wounded Souls" (Sojourners, April 2014), Gregg Brekke explores the church's role in "helping to mitigate the effects of guilt and shame" that veterans experience after they return home from duty. Many veterans suffer from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), which makes integrating back into civilian life both difficult and painful. Brekke argues that the church community can and should play a vital role in helping veterans begin to heal from their wounds—wounds that are not easily seen by the human eye. 

Watch the following video from 60 Minutes to learn some of the challenges that U.S. veterans with PTSD face.

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U.K. Minister Sayeeda Warsi Calls on West to Protect Christian Minorities

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, U.K. minister for faith. Photo: Kaveh Sardari/Council on Foreign Relations. Via RNS.

The highest-ranking Muslim in the British government on Friday called on Western governments to do more to protect besieged Christian minorities across the world, particularly in the Holy Land where they are now seen as “outsiders.”

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the government’s minister for faith and the first Muslim member of a British cabinet, said religious freedom is a proxy for human rights and must not be an “add-on” to foreign policy.

“A mass exodus is taking place, on a biblical scale,” she said in a speech at Georgetown University. “In some places, there is a real danger that Christianity will become extinct.”

Syrian Christians May Get Pulled into Civil War

View of Maalula village with Muslim Mosque and statue of Virgin Mary. Photo: Via RNS/John Wreford/Associated Reporters Abroad

A huge statue of the Virgin Mary towers over churches, monasteries and mosques in the Syrian city of Maaloula, where a dialect of the Aramaic language of Jesus is still spoken.

The town has managed to stay out of the Syrian conflict between Sunni Muslim rebels and the regime of dictator Bashar Assad, as have most of Syria’s 2 million Christians.

But worsening violence has forced the community into a corner: Continuous clashes between the rebels and the regime in this isolated town of 2,000 people as well as other Christian towns over the past two weeks have many Christians worried that they will no longer be allowed to stay neutral.

Bradley Manning Acquitted of 'Aiding the Enemy'

Bradley Manning photo hangs on lightpost, photo by savebradley / Flickr.com
Bradley Manning photo hangs on lightpost, photo by savebradley / Flickr.com

A military judge ruled Tuesday that Pfc. Bradley Manning was not guilty of aiding the enemy. In 2010, he was arrested for allegedly passing classified materials to the website WikiLeaks. If Manning had been found guilty of aiding the enemy, he could have been sentenced to life in prison. The sentencing phase of the trial will begin Wednesday.

The New York Times reports:

Private Manning had already confessed to being WikiLeaks’ source for a huge cache of government documents, which included videos of airstrikes in which civilians were killed, hundreds of thousands of front-line incident reports from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, dossiers on men being held without trial at the Guantánamo Bay prison, and about 250,000 diplomatic cables.

But while Private Manning had pleaded guilty to a lesser version of the charges he was facing, which could expose him to up to 20 years in prison, the government decided to press forward with a trial on a more serious version of the charges, including “aiding the enemy” and violations of the Espionage Act, which could result in a life sentence.

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Choosing Royal Babies Over Abu Ghraib

WILL OLIVER/AFP/Getty Images
A selection of British newspapers in London showing the new royal baby. WILL OLIVER/AFP/Getty Images

By now most of the world knows the royal family in England is celebrating the birth of little baby George Alexander Louis. The commentators panted as they caught the first glimpses of the magic baby, about everything from the infant's apparent ability to withstand a media onslaught to the ever-so-newsworthy fact that his father drove the family home with his own two hands.

Meanwhile in Iraq, several hundred prisoners of the infamous Abu Ghraib facility escaped, many of whom were known or suspected members of Al Qaeda. Considering the attention given to the few dozen detainees still held in Guantánamo Bay, it seems reasonable to think that such a breakout would arrest the headlines around the globe.

But instead, we stayed focused for the most part on baby George. I remarked about this to my friend, sharing my concern about the apparent distortion of priorities. He suggested that it simply is a sign of cultural fatigue, or even resignation. Sometimes, after all, these stories that have international importance seem so big, so abstract, and so far away that it is hard to wrap our minds around them. It’s easier instead to set our attention on something more hopeful — albeit remarkably more superficial — that won’t keep us awake at night.

The Song Remains

THE FONDEST memories I have of Kathy Kelly are of her singing. It’s safe to say that her three nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize were not for her voice, which is sometimes sweet but often a touch out of key. At times I’ve imagined her feeling briefly self-conscious about this, but that passes. The song remains, and I am again reminded of just how deeply this woman can move me.

In spring 1999, in a small banquet room at Georgetown University, I first heard Kelly sing and speak about the suffering in Iraq. A crowd of about 200 people had gathered to hear about her work. She had been to Iraq dozens of times to put a human face on the conflict there and to defy the drastic financial and trade embargo that the U.N. Security Council had imposed shortly after Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

She briefly went over the statistics—the deep poverty, the lack of medicines, the estimated half-million children who had died, many due to the U.N. sanctions, enforced in part by a U.S.-led blockade—but she quickly moved on. Statistics weren’t her strength.

Instead she spoke from the heart. Kelly talked about the ordinary Iraqis she had met: the worn women who served her tea and biscuits they could barely afford, the countless kids in threadbare hand-me-downs who ran after her merrily in the street, the tired doctors who broke down crying as they remembered all the children they had lost, the stone-faced parents who accepted her condolences because they didn’t know what else to do.

She also told the story of Zayna, a 7-month-old baby girl who died of malnutrition shortly after Kelly visited her in the hospital.

Then she started singing “We Shall Overcome” in Arabic, after telling the crowd how her friend Sattar, an Iraqi engineer turned taxi driver, had spent hours sitting with her in Baghdad, patiently translating the lyrics into Arabic and teaching them to her.

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Barack Obama and the Drone Wars: The Logic of Violence

Military drone, F.Schmidt / Shutterstock.com
Military drone, F.Schmidt / Shutterstock.com

A fundamental principle [of ancient Greek tragedy], often overlooked, is that the double and the monster are one and the same being.

  - René Girard, Violence and the Sacred (p. 160)

The debate about the use of drone strikes in the so-called “War on Terror ” has shed light on an inevitable calculus of war: how many civilian casualties can be tolerated in pursuit of our goals? President Barack Obama, in his speech on May 23 at National Defense University, referred to the drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, admitting, “It is a hard fact that U.S. strikes have resulted in civilian casualties, a risk that exists in all war.” But of course, our wars and our use of drones were conceived as a legitimate response to the civilian deaths on 9/11 and a defensive maneuver to prevent future attacks.

Obama Defends Drone Attacks

In his speech, Obama further justified the use of drones by stating it reduces the number of civilian casualties compared to boots-on-the-ground wars. Though the numbers are hard to determine, it has been reported by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that civilian casualties caused by our invasion of Iraq number somewhere between 55,000 and 60,000. In Afghanistan, from the time reporting began in 2007, the Guardian reports that the total number of civilians who have lost their lives in the armed conflict to be 14,728. For drone strikes, the highest estimates put total civilian deaths at around 950, indisputably a better number.

The Illogical Logic of Violence

Reducing the number of deaths caused by our use of violence is a worthy goal, and Obama does seem genuinely engaged in drawing the number down. So for the sake of argument, I will take him at his word. But (you knew there was a but coming!), he is trapped, as so many of us are, within the logic of violence.

AUDIO: The Cosas, an Iraqi Christian family

Iraqi Christians are commonly believed to be the oldest continuous Christian community in the world – the direct result of the apostle Thomas’ evangelism efforts. But as Gregg Brekke writes in the July issue of Sojourners, Christians in Iraq and throughout the Middle East are leaving in a mass exodus.

Sojourners editorial assistant Dawn Araujo spoke with a Christian family that left Iraq in 2012. Before leaving the country, Laith Cosa and his wife Awab Khoshnaw had fled—along with their daughters, Linda, 17; Lilyan, 12; and Lobna, 6—to the relative safety of Kurdistan in northern Iraq.

They stayed there for six years before coming to the U.S., in part to seek better medical care for Lobna who had blood cancer.

The Cosas say Christians in Iraq have lived perilously for decades. Both Awab’s father and brother faced persecution long before the U.S. Iraqi invasion, her father fleeing briefly to Poland.

But they harbor no ill-will toward Muslims. They emphasize that Islam is not the problem, but rather a tradition of fear and dislike of “the other” that is passed down from generation to generation. A tradition, they say, can be fought with love and better understanding.

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